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November 06, 2009



I would be in favour of that. I believe Switzerland offers some mechanisms like that wth town halls deciding on whether individual foreign residents should be given citizenship. The problem is that it somewhat counts against all that "anti-discrimination" legislation which prevents people/neighboughoods from selecting people who can move in on the grounds of taste (and I believe, in principle, they should be able to). When you take away people's ordinary freedoms to associate and disassociate using property rights and voluntary agreements, then you put more political pressure on the only boundary left: the state border.

So your argument isn't a reductio as such. There is certainly an inconsistency in the current way of thinking about immigration but it could plausiably roll in either direction.


I live in a very nice mixed area in a large northern city. I have new neighbours. They have two small children. I asked whether they'd be sending their children to the great local primary school (200m away from where we live).

They said, 'No, it's too ethnic.' Which I thought was ironic as they'd just moved to the city from the South and the 'ethnic' families have lived here for 40+ years!


This line got me thinking:
'Some argue that it is wrong, in principle, to draw arbitrary lines across the globe: people should be allowed to live wherever they wish.'

Wolf goes on to argue that 'immigration is a privilege, not a right.'

I am with you here, why not extend this to the local level? I believe some countries through history have done this, but I am not sure Wolf would identify with such regimes. So why dismiss it so easily when it is done internationally...

Wolf goes on the say we need to include 'the costs of new homes' when thinking about immigration. Really? How would that work? If an immigrant build a house, I would have thought this would be a benefit to the economy, not a cost?


Well, you do have some rights over what happens in your neighbour's property, though not the ones you are asking for. If they wish to change their house, you can make the case to planning that this would be unpleasant for you and/or reduce your own property value.


but actually you have plenty of controls over your neighbours.

your neighbour can't, without planning permisison, divide up his house into 10 bedsits and rent them seperately, neither can he use his house to run a business, neither - in most CPZ controlled London Streets can he obtain three parking permits.

He can't light fires in your smoke-free street, niether can he build a two-storey extension on his attic, nor can he park a caravan in the drive and invite his mother to live there

Id he makes too much noise you can stop him and - in theory ate least asbos and injunctions will compel him to behave.

I am not sure your parallel stands up.


I suspect many advocates of national immigration controls on the extreme right would actually support being able to exercise immigration controls at the level of their locality.

Why? Because I don't share your faith that the overwhelming majority of people would choose as neighbour a decent foreigner over an obnoxious Englishman. They would be unlikely to know how decent or obnoxious the potential neighbours were, and would likely make their decisions based on prejudice. We would end up with the kind of culturally and ethnically monotone communities the far right seem to want.

Better, surely, for the costs of immigration that Wolf identifies to be managed through controls at the national level.


"He points out that immigrants add to congestion. But if next door is rented out to a three-car family, I’ll suffer from extra congestion. Why do supporters of immigration controls think I should have no say over this, and yet should be able to control the numbers of people moving into areas I never visit?"

Well, firstly, the say you have should be dependent upon governmental arrangements -- it shouldn't be an "individualised" power.

And yes, there is an argument to be made that local authorities should have certain powers about who purchases houses -- the nearly-always-empty 2nd homes that blight many communities could be used to back this up.


Which exactly is your argument? That because you can't choose your neighbour, we all collectively should not be able to stop whoever wants to from coming and living here, or that we should be able to choose our neighbours but there should be no restrictions on immigration?


@botogol, William - the examples you give of constraints upon my neighbours are all limits upon their behaviour. Immigration controls, though, are constraints upon nationality. There's a world of difference there.
@ Jim - I'm not making any proposal. I'm just asking proponents of immigration controls why they think the controls should apply only at the national level.

Mike Macnair

I think immigration controls are a lousy idea. They do not reduce immigration but merely create an underclass of illegal immigrants who are often slaves or bond-labourers to their employers. But the argument for double standards and from property rights doesn't fly.

Historically, under the old poor law (in force till 1945) immigration controls did apply locally, from parish to parish, in England. A person who became unemployed (or widowed, or sick) could be 'removed' to their parish of origin unless they had obtained a 'settlement' in their place of residence (a certain period of continuous employment, or ownership of land).

It is still possible through property law to put controls on who lives where: restrictive covenants, i.e. provisions attached to the on sale of property, can control various aspects of the purchaser's conduct, including - potentially - who he sells to.

It used to be commonplace in the US to have restrictive covenants against selling to blacks. Since these are illegal under the Civil Rights Act they have been replaced by covenants against selling to buyers with income less than $100k (or whatever), which do the same job by indirect means.

In the UK a variety of codes for social exclusiveness have been used in restrictive covenants. Much of Sheffield's leafier suburbs was in the past covered by late 19th- early 20th century covenants against setting up a fish & chip shop; before Sky became 'socially acceptable', covenants against putting up a satellite dish could do the job. The message is the same: lower orders not welcome here.

Paul Sagar

Most people don't want to pay taxes to immigrants, which is what many effectively believe will happen.

Most people don't realise or care that national borders are arbitrary and that to exclude people from our good living on account of their being born somewhere else is pretty hard to justify morally.

Most people are susceptible to NIMBYism and dog-whistle right-wing politics, which has been allowed to triumph by a complacent - and sometimes, complicit - left.

Most people are receptive to "us vs them" dichotomies and find security in demonising the blameworth other.

Does that about cover it? I reckon it does, really.

[Promise to write you a long blog about democracy and it's varying values, but am super busy. Will do it one day though...]

J. Shaffer

"But nationwide immigration controls also violate such rights."
Au contrare, mon frere. . . Immigration controls are like laws against Trespassing.
Legal immigration (the way most immigrants do things), is akin to walking up to your door and ringing the bell. . . and you open the door and let them in. Everyone's happy. Illegal immigration (the kind preferred by those from the South), is akin to jumping the fence and setting up camp in your back yard - Isn't that trespassing?
They'll only be living in your back yard for 6 months or so while they're working, and the husband will mow your lawn on the cheap. . . you'll have to pay for their kids' education - oh, and their medical bills, Food Stamps, and you'll also have to pay to have a second newspaper delivered that's printed in their language in case they want to read it. . . and if you dare complain that these people jumped your fence and are trespassing on your property, they'll call on every other fence-jumper to hold public rallies decrying your complaint as "racist" (since the vast majority of trespassers are from the same country, they can actually get away with it) and demand that their particular type of trespassing (and no other) be made retroactively legal. . . instead of thanking you profusely for not shooting them.


Why not issue a visa for roaming room to room in your own house?

Pete Murphy

Rampant population growth threatens our economy and quality of life. Immigration, both legal and illegal, are fueling this growth. I'm not talking about environmental degradation or resource depletion. I'm talking about the effect upon rising unemployment and poverty in America.

I should introduce myself. I am the author of a book titled "Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America." To make a long story short, my theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption of products begins to decline out of the need to conserve space. People who live in crowded conditions simply don’t have enough space to use and store many products. This declining per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty.

This theory has huge implications for U.S. policy toward population management, especially immigration policy. Our policies of encouraging high rates of immigration are rooted in the belief of economists that population growth is a good thing, fueling economic growth. Through most of human history, the interests of the common good and business (corporations) were both well-served by continuing population growth. For the common good, we needed more workers to man our factories, producing the goods needed for a high standard of living. This population growth translated into sales volume growth for corporations. Both were happy.

But, once an optimum population density is breached, their interests diverge. It is in the best interest of the common good to stabilize the population, avoiding an erosion of our quality of life through high unemployment and poverty. However, it is still in the interest of corporations to fuel population growth because, even though per capita consumption goes into decline, total consumption still increases. We now find ourselves in the position of having corporations and economists influencing public policy in a direction that is not in the best interest of the common good.

The U.N. ranks the U.S. with eight third world countries - India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia and China - as accounting for fully half of the world’s population growth by 2050. It's absolutely imperative that our population be stabilized, and that's impossible without dramatically reining in immigration, both legal and illegal.

If you’re interested in learning more about this important new economic theory, I invite you to visit my web site at OpenWindowPublishingCo.com where you can read the preface, join in my blog discussion and, of course, purchase the book if you like. (It's also available at Amazon.com.)

Pete Murphy
Author, "Five Short Blasts"

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